In the days leading up to Utah’s opener against Utah State, coach Kyle Whittingham hinted how much last year’s loss to the Aggies affected the Utes, describing how it lingered and set the tone for the season.
"I know it affected me," he said.
Kyle Whittingham’s coaching record
Year Overall Conference
2005 7-5 4-4 (MW)
2006 8-5 5-3 (MW)
2007 9-4 5-3 (MW)
2008 13-0 8-0 (MW)
2009 10-3 6-2 (MW)
2010 10-3 7-1 (MW)
2011 8-5 4-5 (Pac-12)
2012 5-7 3-6 (Pac-12)
2013 3-2 0-2 (Pac-12)
That game is still setting the tone for Utah’s ninth-year coach as the Utes continue to strive for success against the cutthroat competition of the Pac-12.
Whittingham, who has always carried himself in a no-nonsense, businesslike manner, has been even more focused and demanding in the way he has coached the Utes this season.
The classic rock music that blared consistently over Utah’s past preseason camps was muted. The coach has been quick to publicly call out players for poor effort or conditioning, and even has tried to control some aspects of media coverage with demands of what can and can’t be reported about injured players.
In practice Whittingham is asserting himself, too, most notably coaching up the cornerbacks himself after their poor performances early in the season.
It is obvious that as the competition has cranked up in the Pac-12, so too has the coach’s expectations — both for his team, and most of all, for himself.
Bad night in Logan
What’s driving Whittingham?
Last year holds the answer. Whittingham suffered through his first losing season, a season that started painfully with that loss to the Aggies and his former assistant coach Gary Andersen.
That game set the tone for what wound up a 5-7 season. This year, Whittingham is using the experience as motivation.
"That loss was the catalyst for quite a few things this year," he said of the night in Logan. "Looking back, to me that is the one that kept us out of a bowl game, so it was especially impactful. From the way we handled offseason practice to spring ball, everything got amped up this year."
Whittingham has taken numerous steps to ward off a repeat debacle. He went out and hired veteran coach (and two-time national champion) Dennis Erickson to jump-start the floundering offense. He cut Utah’s practice time, but made the workouts more intensive to get more out of the players. Most recently, he "got his hands dirty," as he put it, when he stepped in and coached up the Utes’ lagging cornerbacks.
No doubt about it: Whittingham is driving Utah harder than ever, according to those in the program.
"There isn’t a day that has gone by that he hasn’t thought about that loss, I guarantee you that," Utah defensive end Trevor Reilly said of the USU defeat. "It affected a lot of us, but it definitely affected him."
The Utes seem to be responding through their first five games, even if the improvements haven’t necessarily shown in the win-loss column.
Utah’s improvement was obvious against No. 12 UCLA on Thursday. Having been burned by Utah State’s and Oregon State’s offenses, the Utes went out and held the Bruins’ explosive offense to 34 points and just over 400 years — about 20 points and 200 yards below their season average.
If the Utes keep it up, they’re going to get that breakthrough Pac-12 win at some point.Next Page >
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